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Series: James – On Practical Righteousness
Sun am 14 February 2016 – Justus Swart
Luke 6:47-48; James 1:18-25; Prov. 29: 11 & 20;
Matt. 18:15-20; (Josh. 5:13-14); Deut. 6:4
The book of James has 108 verses, 54 of them are commands. He really does get to the point. Jesus said, ‘As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built’ (Luke 6:47-48). There are many Christians who accept the grace and continue to live in the house that is shaking all the time. We have to learn to put these things into practise in our lives.
James talks to us about practical righteousness; living out our faith and all the things we believe in our hearts. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (James 1:18-21). We are born by the word of truth and are now to be a demonstration of God’s grace to the entire world. We are dependent on the Word that has birthed us. It is the word of truth that will nurture us and make us mature. If we do not want to stunt our own growth we have to keep coming back to the Word.
First on the list of practical righteousness is anger. On the topic of listening and doing James addresses anger. This is not referring to the anger you feel when someone cuts you off in traffic or are shocked at the news headlines. It is the kind of anger that comes up between friends, between spouses and family members, or those you interact with at work. It is the feeling of emotional frustration that comes up and confuses all communication. Anger has the tendency to vent frustration on someone without ever receiving an explanation from the other person. When one is angry it is difficult to hear what the other person is saying and how they see what is happening. Anger, more often than not, gets in the way of listening and doing. Anger dulls our sensitivity towards others. In anger all our energy is re-directed towards protecting ourselves and not towards finding the value in a situation. Once we give over to our anger, it becomes almost impossible to show Christ. James does not condemn anger entirely; anger has its place in the cycle of human emotion, but he says we should be slow to anger. Once anger has control of us, we allow ourselves to be led by an impulse, which is short-lived. When I allow anger to control me I am surrendering to something that by its own nature is momentary. Anger will probably pass a lot quicker than the hurt caused by the anger. The Word of truth tells us you cannot cause damage to anyone else without equally damaging yourself. A fool gives full vent to his anger but a wise man keeps himself under control (Prov. 29:11).
In this passage James talks to us about restraining ourselves in the moment of anger. If you do not decide to be a patient person beforehand, you will always be overcome by anger in the moment. Part of the new birth is that we accept that we have a new standard of conflict resolution. We have to accept a whole new identity as peacemakers. If you do not spend time in the Word learning about your new identity, you will most likely give in every time you are faced with opposition.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:23-25). You must first find your identity as a peacemaker from God’s Word.
We should not ignore our anger or try to bury it. Unresolved anger can lay dormant for a very long time and can eventually lead to bitterness. So what do we do when feel angry? How are we supposed to discharge that in a positive way? Scripture says you should lay yourselves bare before God and before others. Only when we acknowledge that we are loved and that we are to love others, can we really lay ourselves before them. Laying yourself bare does not mean putting all the reasons for your anger on the table. It actually means listening to the other person. It means opening up our hearts and hearing from the other person who might in fact carry a grievance towards us. We need to be vulnerable enough to hear what the other person is saying. Truthfulness is not a disclosure of everything that exists (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Being authentic does not mean taking people apart and putting all the problems you have out there for everyone to see. Being authentic also does not mean gossiping. Being authentic does not mean finding the negative in everything and feeling that you are an honest person. We have to take responsibility for what comes out of us. Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Prov. 29:20). James says that part of our new lifestyle is to be quick to listen and slow to speak. That is a lot harder than it sounds. We have to be bold enough to listen to what is being brought against us. This is a sign of the righteous life that God wants to find in us. These are practical steps to the righteous life that God is interested in.
This is the protocol if someone has angered you. If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matt. 18:15-16). This is Christian Biblical protocol. We are not a perfect community; we do have arguments and disagreements. We should be able to show the world how we deal with conflict via this model that Jesus is talking about. First go to your brother directly; if he listens you have won your brother. If that does not work, bring a few friends so that it does not become personal. If that does not work, get the church leadership involved. If nothing works, treat them as a pagan; love and release them. To carry a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. In this model, Jesus is saying, you have to surrender your anger. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matt. 18:18-20). When you leave in disagreement both of you suffer because God is not on one person’s side (Josh. 5:13-14). God does not fit into your paradigm. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4). God is on the side of oneness. In our anger we break apart this unity that God is looking for. As the church, we stand for that same oneness, because when we stand in agreement, He is with us!